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UN: 250,000 Have Fled Ivory Coast Since September 2002 - 2003-02-12

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy to Ivory Coast is back in Geneva after a five-day visit to the country.

Ms. McAskie estimates that at least a quarter of a million people have fled Ivory Coast since fighting began in September. She says another 600,000 people have been displaced from their homes, but are still in the country. She said many of these are in areas beyond the reach of any aid agencies.

The U.N. envoy said the situation is particularly critical in far west Ivory Coast, along the country's border with Liberia, where medical relief groups like the International Committee of the Red Cross or Medecins Sans Frontiers dare not venture. "Liberian militias are running rampant. Drugged kids with guns are committing every kind of atrocity possible. These areas are no-go areas even for our traditional partners such as ICRC and MSF who will go anywhere," she said.

But Ms. McAskie said the west of the country is not the only area in need. She says some three to four million people in the northern part of Ivory Coast have been without aid for months and need help.

"The health situation is deteriorating rapidly. We are seeing a greater incidence of communicable diseases, particularly, yellow fever, meningitis, cholera. The polio campaigns cannot go on. The kids are running loose out of school. We are having delinquency problems, and banditry as well," she said.

Ms. McAskie said restoring stability to Ivory Coast is critical for the entire West Africa region, but to do that will require money.

The U.N. envoy said the international community has promised to provide $22 million in aid to Ivory Coast, but she says so far only a small percentage of the promised money, 10 to 15 percent, has been received.